The faction of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by former student leader and expatriate businessman Arthur Mutambara is moving to redefine itself – but also intends to do whatever is necessary to retain the MDC name.
Mutambara, addressing a meeting attended by about 300 supporters in London on Tuesday evening, repeatedly called his faction a “new party,” suggesting to some that the grouping might be ready to adopt a new name other than the MDC.
But a top Mutambara advisor said the move to reshape the faction’s identity was about ideological and political positioning, and not renaming the formation.
Mutambara himself, who headed back to Zimbabwe late Wednesday, told his London audience he is setting a different course from the faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC founding president, which will integrate national liberation symbolism.
Faction Deputy Secretary General Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga told reporter Chinedu Offor of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that reconciliation between the two factions seemed highly unlikely at this point, adding that the Mutambara faction was not prepared to relinquish the name of the Movement for Democratic Change.
Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa reiterated his formation's position that Mutambara's faction has no claim to the name, and that the issues of legitimacy and ownership of the MDC brand would be decided by grass roots opposition voters.
Elsewhere, battle lines between the two factions were drawn in the Harare suburb of Budiriro, where a May 20 parliamentary by-election could provide a reliable measure of the relative strength of the two camps - and of possible ZANU-PF inroads.
Though the ruling ZANU-PF party is contesting the seat in the opposition stronghold, candidates of the two factions have been concentrating their fire on each other.
Representing Tsvangirai’s faction is Emmanuel Chisvure, who had close personal ties to the constituency's late member of parliament, Gilbert Shoko, who died in February. The Mutambara camp has fielded Gabriel Chaibva, its chief spokesman.
Jeremiah Bvirindi represents the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission has reported incidents of violence that observers say have involved all three groups. Mutambara faction candidate Chaibva complained that his posters have been vandalized and torn down by Tsvangirai supporters.
Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Chaibva as well as Tsvangirai-faction candidate Chisvure, asking about their strategies and expectations in the campaign, and whether they feared ZANU-PF might benefit from their rivalry.
ZANU-PF contender Bvirindi declined to be interviewed.